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Officials remain concerned about omicron

HOLLYWOOD — As the new year begins, health officials at the tribe and across the country have been monitoring
the severity and spread of the Covid-19 omicron variant. South Florida has seen a sharp increase in cases as people seek testing and hospitals cope with more patients and crowded emergency rooms.

The tribe’s executive director of Health and Human Services, Dr. Vandhana Kiswani-Barley, said she had been concerned about such a spike occurring during the holiday season when people tend to congregate with family and friends.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said it is working with state and local public health officials to monitor omicron’s spread, as it’s been detected in most states and territories and is rapidly increasing the proportion of Covid-19 cases it is causing.

“We don’t yet know how easily it spreads, the severity of illness it causes, or how well available vaccines and medications work against it,” the CDC said in a recent statement.

“What is known is the new variant, omicron, is highly contagious,” Kiswani-Barley said.

Kiswani-Barley added that the symptoms of omicron are similar to those of the common cold – runny nose, sneezing and congestion among others – which is one reason why testing has dramatically increased. The flu virus also shares some common symptoms. Kiswani-Barley said the tribe has seen an increase in flu cases as well, and is encouraging tribal members and tribal employees to get their flu shot. Those six months and older are eligible for it, she said.

“We are administering full services [at tribal clinics] but that may change if the [Covid-19] numbers continue to climb,” Kiswani-Barley said. “The main message is to be very cautious and don’t drop your guard.”

Last October, HHS returned to normal service at its clinics after being open for essential visits only. The tribe had seen a decline in cases after its steepest increase over the summer. The tribe continues to encourage those who have not received a Covid-19 vaccine or booster shot to do so. The tribal population is considered high risk.

Vaccines and booster shots are available for tribal members and tribal employees. The vaccine is available to those five years and older, while the booster shot is approved for those 16 years and older. There are eligibility restrictions.

Editor’s note: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has information on the symptoms and differences between a common cold, the flu and the Covid-19 virus. Go to for more. Tribal members can call their local clinic or the HHS hotline at (833) 786-3458 for more information about the Covid-19 vaccine, booster shots, antibody treatments and the flu vaccine. Tribal employees can call the hotline for vaccine information as well.

Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at